I promised to climb Mount Kinabalu last Christmas Eve on a whim for the same challenge that led AF to complete his triathalon. The two-day climb seemed doable, and the chance to visit Borneo while living in Malaysia was too good to pass up!
Keeping tight lips until I had bragging rights (and a photo at the summit) to pass onto AF and KT, I headed to Kinabalu with five friends at the end of October. I can’t say I really trained for the climb, but I’ve been doing a lot of hiking with a great group of people all year; there are some spectacular jungle trails in Penang accessible after work and on weekends.
The first day of the climb entails 6km on a well-kept trail. Somewhere between 4-5km, we left the steamy jungle behind for cooler temps and some cool looking vegetation (photo). Although we took lots of time to take photos and lunch, we were one of the first groups to reach the Laban Rata guesthouse, with tons of time to stretch, play cards, and enjoy a brilliant sunset.
We were up at 2am to reach the summit before sunrise, spoiled with a full moon and clear skies. This was lucky, as the climbers the day before described their summit experience in the rain and sub-zero temperatures as “Shit”. The summit was incredible as the sun rose over Borneo; I couldn’t help but feel accomplished at completing something I’d been thinking about all year.
After the thrill of the top, the same-day descent was rough – I almost crawled to the park gate at the end of the trail. Our last evening in Kota Kinabalu involved walking slowly, lots of sleep, and avoiding stairs at all cost. Four days of burning legs later, I had nothing but great memories and photographs of the mountain.
The tour includes accommodation at two dorm-style lodges – Sutera Lodge at the Mount Kinabalu National Park gate, and Laban Rata, way-up-high at 3272m. I had low expectations for the lodges, but they were fantastic – comfortable beds, lovely pillows, and warm blankets for those of us who had acclimatized to tropical island weather. The food was sub-par in quality, but there was more than enough of it to satisfy hungry climbers.
Many tourists consider Malaysian Borneo to be covered in red-tape – in my opinion this is completely justified once you see some of the flora and fauna of the archipelago. I would recommend that anyone visiting the area do some planning-ahead. It’s not my usual travel style to book through a tour company, but in the case of Kinabalu, you’ll benefit from the organization and stewardship of an incredible place!